Pastoral Migration or Exodus?

I am trying to discern and see whether we are facing a pastoral migration or a pastoral exodus as we move into the fall of 2021. Now we have been expecting a bit of a migration because there was a lot less pastors moving in 2020 due to how things were restricted and slowed down. There are people I know who were going to move as pastors or retire in 2020, who decided to stick around for the sake of their church and just for logistical reasons, and that was a good thing.

But now as restrictions seem to be lifting depending on whether or not there is another wave pending, we’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to face a migration where pastors are going to move. If someone resigns and someone else resigns, is starts this kind of domino effect of pastors moving around. Or maybe we’re actually going to face an exodus.

In the world in which I work with churches in transition with a certain denomination in a certain region, we’re seeing a little bit of an exodus, not just the migration. In other words, we’re seeing pastors resign and not continue in pastoral ministry. And not just because they’re retirement age, but in many cases because they’re tired, and in many cases because they’ve come out of difficult situations.

Now, a lot of church situations are difficult. There’s ministry challenges no matter what totally apart from a pandemic. You throw the pandemic in and you have people in your church bickering over restrictions and masks and vaccinations, and a pastor finds themselves in the middle of all of that, it just adds to a load and can be really a life sucking.

I have a friend in ministry who had one of his elders exited from the church with a group of people and started their own group. I know that was repeated in many places, whether elders left or pastors left and took people with them. That’s a gut punch at the very best, and it’s really, really hard.

My concern is looking at the state of churches is that there was already a shortage of pastors. By shortage I mean, not a shortage of people wanting to get jobs in churches. There’s always people applying for jobs, whether they’re qualified or not, but there’s definitely a shortage of gifted called capable pastors, particularly in lead pastor roles, but I’m sure it’s across the board. I deal more with lead pastor roles, but I know there’s challenges in other roles as well.

There’s a shortage, and now we’re starting to see (this is anecdotal, not statistical) at this point, we’re starting to see pastors leaving their churches and not continuing in pastoral ministry. There’s some real concern about that and what’s going to happen and how churches are going to handle this.

There’s going to be churches certainly closing. There may be some churches merging or becoming campuses of larger churches. That kind of thing could happen, and there might be more virtual church happening, though a lot of people are just tired of that and other people are all over it. So there’s going to be some changes that way.

But just for a moment now, I just want to speak to you if you are considering either a move or maybe a move out of ministry altogether. These are some considerations regardless of which way you’re looking. Number one if you’re a pastor, don’t forget what the word means. It means shepherd and your decision-making has to be based on what is best for the body. Now, yes, there is self care. There are family issues for sure, but as a shepherd, one of your big considerations is the life of the body that you are called to shepherd and called the serve.

The other issue of course, is your calling. Have you been called to be a pastor? Are you gifted and called for pastoral ministry? If that’s the case, you need to be very careful about leaving pastoral ministry and not just pulling the plug because it’s been a tough season. There’s been tough seasons throughout history as well, and in tough seasons, the body of Christ needs pastors who will persevere.

Another consideration is how can you be most effective in being a disciple who makes disciples, regardless of whether you are a vocational minister or not. As a follower of Jesus, you are called to be a disciple who makes disciples. What is the best way you can achieve that? That should be a big consideration.

Your answer might be that you can best achieve that outside a vocational role, but at least ask the question and give some real thought to that because there are some advantages to working and serving in a local church context vocationally when it comes to disciple-making. It comes down to your gifts, the specifics of your stage of life and everything else. But think that through. How can you be the best disciple maker?

I would say that it’s really important if you’re facing a big decision, whether to leave a church or leave the ministry altogether, that there is some fasting and prayer going on. That you’re carving out some time to spend on your face before God, spend extra time in the word pouring out your heart and listening and resting. I would say this is also a time, as a part of that, to talk to mentors and people you trust, who know you and love you, who will tell the truth to you and ask for their input on what you’re facing.

And finally, I would say, when you do make a decision, and this is maybe hard to do, but when you do make a decision, do not make it from a place of fatigue, but make it from a place of rest. In other words, don’t just leave the ministry or leave a role because you need a rest. Get a rest before you make the decision.

I know in some churches, there have been a board of elders who’ve insisted their pastor take a break. That’s wonderful. I know another role or a pastor asked for a break and faced some backlash, but ended up getting a break out of it. Do what it takes to get some rest. Perhaps go bare bones on your ministry. Do what just needs to be done and carve out some extra time for rest, regardless of what you choose to do.

Again, I encourage you to make your decisions prayerfully and carefully with fasting and prayer, with other voices speaking to your heart and mind, and really revisit your call and your gifting and ask the question, “Lord, what is the best way for me to live this out in this time, this place in this season?”

Wisdom you. God bless, press on.

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